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Monday, 15 July 2019
Darren Clarke   (Getty Images)
Darren Clarke (Getty Images)

Darren Clarke will be proud to hit the opening tee shot when The Open Championship gets under way in Northern Ireland for the first time in 68 years on Thursday.

The home favourite, who owns a house overlooking Royal Portrush Golf Club, is scheduled to get play under way at 6.35am alongside Amateur Championship winner James Sugrue from Ireland and American Charley Hoffman.

Clarke lifted the Claret Jug in 2011 and has since gone on to captain Europe at the Ryder Cup, but it will be another proud moment in his remarkable career when he strikes the first blow at the season's final Major Championship.

"It’s Royal Portrush and when the R&A ask you, it’s a definite yes," he said.

“It’s the first time we’ve been here since 1951 and he asked me to do it and I happily accepted. Sometimes it can be a good draw teeing off here at half six in the morning too. We’ll see.

“Will there be tears? No. I’ll just be very proud that we have it back here in Northern Ireland. It’s a huge thing. It’s going to be an amazing tournament. The atmosphere is going to be sensational.”

Clarke’s experience of Royal Portrush means he has been in demand for practice rounds in recent weeks, with the likes of Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Matt Wallace all taking advantage of his local knowledge.

“I probably told them too much really,” he joked. “Of course I want to beat them. But at the same time, they’re all good guys, I like them all. I’ve been giving them whatever information that they wanted and a little bit more.

Will there be tears? No. I’ll just be very proud that we have it back here in Northern Ireland - Darren Clarke

“The golf course has a few things that you really need to know about it, which holes to attack and which ones not to. The fairways are generous here but because there’s so many different angles, picking your line off the tee and whatever club you’re going to hit off that tee is vitally important.”

Now 50, Clarke would become the oldest Major champion in history should he lift the Claret Jug again, while fellow Major winners Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell will also carry home hopes.

“I’ve always been good and bad, pretty hard on myself in the past,” he said. “But I’m determined this week to enjoy it the best I can.

“Whether I play well or don’t play well, it’s a huge thing for all the Irish golfers, for Northern Ireland, for me that lives here a little bit, to have the Open Championship. So I’ll try and enjoy it as much as I possibly can.”

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